Affleck "humiliated" by last successful role?

From IGN:

“In a report that has been picked up by various European news outlets, Affleck told the press at the London premiere of his new film Hollywoodland, “By playing a superhero in Daredevil, I have inoculated myself from ever playing another superhero. … Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me and something I wouldn’t want to do again soon.” “

It’s helpful to remember that, in context, Affleck is offering these thoughts in relation to his most-recent boxoffice dud, “Hollywoodland,” in which he plays doomed TV “Superman” George Reeves. However, myself and IGN can’t be the only ones who find it kind of, well… “huh?” that Affleck is this regretful over appearing in a not-great superhero flick when he’s done so much worse elsewhere. “Gigli?” “Survivng Christmas?” “Jersey Girl?” “Paycheck?” Let’s get real here: Wearing Daredevil’s horns didn’t kill this man’s career, wearing Jennifer Lopez’s leash did.

Part of this goes to (at least partially) illuminating just why “Hollywoodland” eventually didn’t work despite decent-enough acting from all involved. The film failed, ultimately, to address the central irony of Reeves’ tragedy: The irony that his Superman performance, even if he never took it very seriously… his embodiment of the icon so captivated the audience that it eventually consumed him. It approached the material with the tired, old-guard, “serious actors beware!!!” elitist skew that Reeves was degraded by “Superman’s” silliness, when it now strikes me that he was more-accurately eclipsed by “Superman’s” pop-culture godhood.

Even taking Affleck at his word here, it’s likely that the specific dwelling on “Daredevil” as a source of scorn is very much intentional: The same old-guard that still makes the rules on the “high-art/low-art” division also march in lockstep to the “Hollywoodland” vision of such material. Every scrap of dwindling hope they can get that the Geek Age of Cinema isn’t here to stay is ambrosia to them, and this sort of quip coming from an actor is usually designed to appeal to them so that “______ is back to making real films again!” becomes part of the reviews.

REVIE: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Khazakstan

Very nice.

Sacha Baron Cohen, aka “Ali G,” “Borat Sagdiyev” and most-recently the gay French Nascar rival in “Taladega Nights,” is undisputedly one of the most talented comedians on the planet right now. And with “Borat,” a feature film mockumentary expanding on a character from his “Da Ali G Show,” he may eventually have to add to his credits having provided perhaps the most profoundly important foriegn influence over American comedy since “SCTV.” This is the funniest movie of the year.

The premise is simple: Cohen inhabits the persona of Borat, a popular TV reporter from the impoverished Central Asian nation of Khazakstan, who has been sent to America to film a documentary about U.S. culture in order that his countrymen may learn from it. But here’s the gag: Cohen-as-Borat films his own encounters with real people who are not in on the joke. As far as the various politicians, newspeople, celebrities, business owners and passers-by know, the man they are speaking to really is a strange little man from a country they’ve never heard of.

And so we have it: Real-world reactions to a character who isn’t real, but seems to be. And what a character he is, an all-in-one summation of every caricature ever drawn about wacky Old World tourists; at once a naively innocent yokel (yes, thats a live rooster in his luggage) and a boorish, misogynist anti-semite (Cohen is Jewish.)

He’s designed, it seems, to bring out the silliest in people regardless of their culture or ideology. His accent and overly-affectionate greetings draw threats and shock from “conservatives,” but he mines the best comedy gold in what amounts to an all-out assault on “progressive” cultural relativism: Without the lingering spectre of Political Correctness, “Borat” wouldn’t work. It’s the dogged determination of “sophisticated” Americans and Euros to excuse the ridiculous (and often outright offensive) words and actions of certain groups and/or people because “well, that’s their culture, and we have to respect those differences and be open minded” that makes their reaction to Borat so damn hillarious.

For example, it’s funny enough when Borat casually asks a gun salesman which weapon would be best to kill a Jew (Jews, we are shown, are regarded as demonic creatures of myth in Borat’s Khazakstan) but the real hilarity is watching the salesman continue to grimmace his way through the sale, eventually reccomending a 9mm. If he followed his apparent gut instinct and simply told Borat to get the hell out of his store, it wouldn’t be nearly as funny. (Ali G worked a similar duality, mocking both the absurdities of African American hip-hop culture AND the absurdities of white British youth trying to emulate it.)

It must be said, though, that the film get’s it’s most prolonged laugh for one of it’s scripted moments: A scene of bewildering gross-out physical comedy as Borat engages in an impromptu nude fistfight/wrestling-match across a fancy hotel with his surly, overweight producer. The scene is funny enough to draw tears, which have the added advantage of obscuring some (but not all) of what has to be the most unpleasant male nudity put on film in a long time. Other scenes, like the running subplot about Borat’s quest to find Pamela Anderson or a surreal moment involving the live bear that Borat is keeping in his ice cream truck transportation, prove that Cohen and company are as adept at scripted comedy as they are at improvised lunacy.

The comedy is so inspired that it’s generating humor without even trying: Khazakstan, the real Khazakstan, is so enraged by the film (the Khazakstan Borat comes from is a fictionalized place defined by poverty, incest, prostitution and a festival called “The Running of The Jew,” and was filmmed in Romania) and the prospect that people might mistake Mr. Sagdiyev for a real Khazak that they’ve allocated government funds to produce a historical epic to “refute” Borat, and last month even sent their ambassador to the White House in order to conference on improving U.S./Khazak relations in the wake of the film. Guess who crashed the party, or rather stood outside the gates and drew all the media attention.

Amazingly, the film is only playing in 800 theaters… but at the time of this writing the boxoffice numbers are coming in showing that “Borat” defied all analysts predictions and out-performed the assumed juggernaut “Santa Clause 3.” Come Monday morning, all of Hollywood will be abuzz about one thing: A low-budget “niche” spoof about a man with a fake accent asking bystander’s stupid questions is now the number one movie in America. There will be reverberations, a ripple effect, maybe a Best Actor nomination for Cohen (though I betcha Borat will be a presenter either way, just wait) etc. Comedy filmmaking just got it’s biggest refreshment in years.

Great success!


REVIEW: Flushed Away

This newest feature from the venerable Aardman animation house isn’t quite one for the ages like most of their previous efforts, but that doesn’t mean it’s not great fun in it’s own right. A bit slight, yes, but it finds a good balance of fun somewhere between “Chicken Run’s” earnest pluck and “Wallace & Gromit’s” dry mock-sophistication and settles into it nicely.

The biggest change of note to Aardman fans (or animation buffs in general) is that the famously stop-motion devoted company has opted to dip it’s toe into the CGI pool for this one, apparently a concession to the sheer difficulty of creating a film which takes place almost-entirely in, on or around moving water. Stylistically, though, it’s obvious that great pains have been taken to ensure that the character models and movements replicate the studio’s signature style. Another welcome mainstay, more pronounced than even in “Wallace,” is Aardman’s unabashed affection for the cultural quirks of their native Britain.

Hugh Jackman (late of “The Prestige” and, as the film takes great joy in reminding us, “X-Men,”) dons his broadway-honed “rakish fop” hat as the voice of Roddy St. James, the pampered pet rat of a wealthy British family (are rats more popular as pets in England?) Roddy spends his life in, literally, a gilded cage; but when left alone leads a rich fantasy-life amid toys and dolls which seems almost enough to make him forget that he is, well, alone. One home-invasion by boorish sewer rat Sid (Andy “Gollum” Serkis, who just got done giving Jackman a hard time in “The Prestige,”) and botched ejection attempt later, though, and Roddy is hurtling down the toilet drain and into the London sewer system, here imagine as a bustling urban metropolis of cockney, working-class rodents.

So, yes, we’re in “African Queen”/”Romancing the Stone”/”Temple of Doom”/pampered-city-slicker-forced-into-real-world-jungle/ghetto territory once again, though this time with an amusing gender-switch: Roddy as the archetypal Brit aristocrat and tomboyish salvage boat captain Rita (Kate Winslet) as his only hope of navigating the way home, a way that becomes blocked both by Roddy’s own naivete and the larger danger of The Toad, (Sir Ian McKellan, aka “Magneto,” heh!,) the local gangster who’s got a bizzare fetish for all things Royal Family, a beef with Rita and a genocidal scheme in mind for his rodent “inferiors.”

Okay, the plot is formula. You know more-or-less how this is going to play out. You know that Roddy will fall instantly in-love with Rita after watching her perform some great feat of daring, that he’ll come to learn the value of friendship, etc. You can even likely guess the how/why/when of Rita coming around on him, and maybe even what all the random references to World Cup Soccer are building to. But it’s the getting-there that’s fun.

The Aardman wit is as sharp as ever, but what works best here is the excellent “physical” comedy of the characters. Deliriously-funny bits emerge from such odd places as Roddy attempting a song and dance routine for an elderly woman who mistakes him for Tom Jones, or a showstopping sequence involving a frog mime and a camera-phone that must be seen to be believed. Even what seem like tired gags turn out to be gems, like Jean Reno’s supporting turn as Toad’s hitman cousin Le Frog, a running gag which seems to incorporate every single worn-out joke about the French but somehow makes them funny again; and even the obligatory sequence of crotch-hit gags come off fresh and funny.

I had fun with this, very-much reccomended.